Play it Safe When You Play Outdoors

Posted May 9th, 2012 by Be The Match and filed in Patient Stories
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Karen is an outdoor enthusiast, a hiker, a nature lover, and a cancer survivor. At age 52, Karen received a transplant for multiple myeloma. “For the first year after transplant, I was only able to take short walks close to home,” she explains. “Getting my strength back meant I could be outside longer, but going for a long walk in the woods meant taking precautions to avoid graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and infections.”

“I love to hike in the woods,” says Karen. “I’ll hike five miles or more at a time. However, I’m always careful to use sun block and wear a hat when I’m outside. I also hike later in the day to avoid the full sun.”

Spring gardening can also pose special risk for transplant recipients – not just from the sun, but there is also risk from bacteria and fungi in the soil.

“As an apartment dweller, I keep houseplants instead of a garden,” says Karen, “but I know they could be a risk, too, so my boyfriend Bruce takes care of them for me.”

Restrictions haven’t stopped Karen and Bruce from enjoying life. They just got creative.

”Bruce and I are planning a trip to Europe. Since I have Scottish heritage, visiting someplace that is both beautiful, historical – and famous for being gloomy – is a perfect combination!

“Today, I still have a few lingering issues to deal with, but overall, I feel great. It’s been a tough journey, but today I am able to walk farther and do more than some of my 25-year old neighbors!”

Do you know how to play it safe? 

Here comes the sun …
The sun’s ultraviolet rays can increase the risk of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). Even daylight on a cool, overcast day can be damaging. But you don’t have to hide inside—you just have to play it smart!

  • Limit time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m and 4 p.m.
  • Wear a hat, long sleeves and long pants.
  • Apply sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) to any exposed skin including face, back of neck, hands and feet.
  • Some patients also wear special sun protective clothing.

Keepin’ it clean …
Outdoor activities can pose risk of infection because plants and soil, the food we eat, and the air we breath is full of bacteria, molds and fungi. When your immune system is strong, simple precautions like hand washing are all you need to stay safe. But any time your immune system is weak, you need to take extra precautions to avoid potentially dangerous infections.

In the yard and garden
Many doctors recommend that you avoid outdoor gardening and yard work for the first year post transplant. If you’re an avid gardener, consider teaming up with people who want to learn your skills. (You provide direction and let them handle the dirty work.)

Picnics and camping
Eat well and stay safe by following common sense rules, as well as any specific instructions from your doctor. Be sure foods are safely prepared and stored. Cook all meats thoroughly; juices should run clear, not pink. Properly refrigerate cold foods and don’t let them sit out. Store leftovers safely and eat them within a day (or not at all).

Clean air
Besides risk of infection, tiny particles in the air can irritate lungs and cause respiratory problems. Limit time outdoors when air quality is poor and avoid blowing dust as well as
smoke from grills or campfires.

Clean water
Swimming or wading in lakes or rivers can be an infection risk if you’re immune compromised. It’s also best to avoid public and private swimming pools and hot tubs because it’s hard to tell if they have been properly maintained.   

Use masks and gloves when needed
Follow your doctor’s advice about wearing a mask and using protective gloves and disinfecting wipes whenever you’re exposed to increased risk of infection. Wash your hands often.

And just in case …
Check out the early warning signs of GVHD, and infection so you can act quickly if you need treatment.

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